KashKan, which opens on September 2, is the chef-restaurateur's first venture in the Middle East. KashKan is a portmanteau of Kashmir, the northernmost part of India, and Kanyakumari, which is down in the south. The expansive concept is reinforced by a logo that looks like a compass and alludes to the restaurant's aim to capture the breadth of Indian cuisine.
Brar, who has not opened a restaurant in more than four years, runs a number of dining venues across North America and South Asia. He says while the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on the food industry, the sector is bouncing back.
“Life leads you to the right places at the right time,” he tells The National during a media preview of the upcoming restaurant in Dubai Festival City Mall. “This is the place to be,” he adds.
Brar admits, however, that it is virtually impossible and almost a disservice to claim that one restaurant could do justice to the vastness and variety of Indian cuisine.
“Restaurants like this are not even a blip on the screen, relative to the cuisines of entire countries and regions,” he says. KashKan only hopes to spark meaningful conversations about Indian food, he adds.
“These restaurants can become mouthpieces to talk about the infinitely diverse culture that we have.”
Brar's candour extends to saying “food is subjective” and he doesn't expect everyone to have the same experiences when eating his dishes.
“I might trigger a memory, I might not,” he says. “I might trigger a bad memory with the food I serve. I am just as much a disciple of food who's still learning like everybody else.”
In a refreshing take on Indian cuisine, Brar has created a menu that highlights authentic flavours, trying hard to veer away from serving “stereotypical food that people usually see in restaurants”.
On my visit, I sample several dishes, which the Indian chef admits he is still “thinking about” whether to include (or not) in the final menu. These include warm hibiscus rasam soup, crispy kale chaat and an inventive tandoori platter to start.
Avoiding the usual butter chicken main course, Brar served rich and flavourful Nagaland black sesame chicken, paneer makhani and nizami tarkari biryani. The tasting finished with a tasty but rather hearty gulab jamun cheesecake.
The restaurant, on the first level of Festival City mall, can sit up to 210 people. It has an outdoor section overlooking the waterfront promenade.
Inside, the colourful decor and furniture are meant to represent India's vibrant culture, Brar explains. There is a kitchen separated by a glass window, as well as a central bar where desserts and drinks are prepared.
The venue also has five private dining rooms, or cabanas as Brar refers to them, each centred around a theme based on India's major regions with screens that play in-theme travel and food clips on loop.
One wall features photographs taken either by Brar or his friends, adding a personal touch. The dining area that faces the mall's fountain is bright and airy, speaking to the Indian chef's laid-back approach.
The allure of Dubai
Brar joins a host of other internationally renowned chefs entering the burgeoning food scene in Dubai. Recently, Indian chefs Ritu Dalmia and Kunal Kapur opened restaurants in the city.
For the Lucknow-born Brar, who is currently a judge in the Indian franchise of cooking show MasterChef, it's not Dubai's glitzy reputation that excites him most.
“More than being sophisticated, I think Dubai's food culture is very embracing and that is what makes it beautiful for me,” he says.
“You have these tiny precincts scattered across the city, with their own subcultures. You move from one block to another and you have a completely different cultural undercurrent. People who have been here for years have learnt to embrace these nuances.”
Brar says Dubai's foodies are taught naturally to embrace diversity and a “little bit of adventure”. He says this reminds him of Melbourne, which has taken so many years to build a strong multicultural community.
“If the same thing develops in Dubai over the next decades, this is going to be an amazing city.”